In school, in Ireland, we get Austin Clarke on our poetry syllabus moaning about heifers and blackbirds in the faraway Irish mists – snooze. In England they get John Cooper Clarke: “The fucking cops are fucking keen to fucking keep it fucking clean. The fucking chief’s a fucking swine who fucking draws a fucking line.” – fucking sweet. He’s experiencing a bit of an upturn in popularity in recent years thanks to endorsements by the Artic Monkeys, so not wanting to miss the ship after it’s left the shore, we figured we’d get ours in too.
What makes for a really good poem?
I don’t spend much time reading poetry I must say, but I like all sorts of stuff so it’s a tough one to pin down.
Is there a point when you’re writing a poem where you think, that’s it, I’ve nailed it?
Nah, I don’t really ever feel that. I tweak them all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever walked away going that’s it. I don’t work that way I suppose. Also with the show it’s not 100% poetry. It’s just sort of talking with the crowd, getting a few gags in.
Would you prefer it if your shows had less laughs and the poetry was taken more seriously?
No, I like that. I like it like that.
Do you put much time into your look?
No, not really. I’ve been wearing the same kind of thing for years, which is a bit of a tall order these days as people are much bigger now. Buying a jacket off the rail is near impossible if you’re a bit on the slender side.
You’re the skinniest man I’ve ever seen on a stage, do you eat much?
Loads. Go figure. I eat a lot.
Where did you first develop an interest in poetry?
At school. Where we all start.
Was it not a bit strange for you to embark on such a fanciful career?
It is kind of fanciful but I’ve got a feeling that everybody in the world has written a poem. It’s the first refuge of the scoundrel.
Have you had many jobs to support your poetry?
How long have you got?
What was the worst one?
The worst one? A building site. Digging foundations for garages. Blimey that was heavy work. I lasted a fortnight. I didn’t really have many muscles but I was able to count each one as they hurt so bad.
How did the Ou Est la Maison De Fromage? collaboration come about with Alan Williams?
That was a criminal act. It was a bootleg. I feel terrible about it and wish it didn’t exist. It was a bootleg. I made no money off it and I wish it never existed.
And has he got in touch with you since?
It must be nice to have kids a good forty years younger than you turning up at your shows?
Well the Artic Monkeys are always dropping my name, and Kate Nash too. It’s nice when these glamorous artists talk about you. And I did get put on the GCSE syllabus which introduced younger people to me.
How did the Sugar Puffs advert come about?
They left a telegram – I think that’s what we used in those days – saying get in touch. And I thought ‘that sounds lucrative’. They were great. They were a lot of fun to make.
You were using a lot of heroin back in those days weren’t you?
Yeah, but I kept it pretty quiet.
Did it not seem strange to be doing a kid’s ad considering?
A little bit, but the subject just doesn’t come up. Everybody’s got to eat.
Was it the hardest thing you’ve ever done, kicking heroin?
It was pretty tough yeah. It were hard.
Do you think you got anything out of that period?
No, I think it’s all negative. I can’t think of anything to recommend that road.
So you wouldn’t recommend drugs to aspiring artists?
Whatever makes people good it ain’t drugs. Drugs will never furnish you with any particular talent.